By Catherine MacDonald and Sarah Morris
MADRID Feb 18 Striking union workers clashed
with police at Madrid's Barajas airport on Monday on the first
day of a week-long strike over more than 3,800 pending job cuts
at Spain's flagship airline Iberia.
More than 80 Iberia flights were cancelled as workers at the
carrier began a series of five-day walkouts that are expected to
cost the airline and struggling national economy millions of
euros in lost business.
Hundreds of workers flooded into Terminal 4 at Barajas - the
biggest airport in Spain - to noisily protest, chanting and
whistling, with one group staging a sit-in. About 2,000 people
demonstrated outside the terminal.
The police beat some strikers with truncheons to keep them
away from the doors of the international airport, Iberia's
Madrid hub, and forcefully threw others out of the terminal. At
least five protesters were arrested.
Previous strikes have cost Iberia between 2 million euros
and 3 million euros a day, a spokesman told Reuters.
Flights from other airlines were delayed at airports across
Spain, including at Madrid and Barcelona, as Iberia baggage
handlers, also working for other airlines, joined strikers.
Air stewards and ground staff are holding three five-day
strikes in February and March to protest against management
plans to axe jobs and cut salaries at the loss-making airline.
Some 10 percent of long-haul flights and half of domestic
flights will be grounded this week.
Labour unions kicked off the strikes with demonstrations in
the morning at most Spanish airports, including Barcelona. At an
8 km march (5 miles) around Barajas, protesters blamed British
managers at the airline group for job cuts threatened in Spain.
Demonstrators waved Spanish flags and banners saying
"British go home".
Iberia, which merged with profitable British Airways in 2011
to form the International Airlines Group (IAG), reported a loss
of 262 million euros ($349.78 million) in the first nine months
"Nobody is safe from being sacked," said Elias Gonzalez, a
maintenance supervisor at the Barajas protest who has worked for
Iberia for 27 years.
"There was an initial deal with the company when the merger
with the British was agreed, but now there is disagreement."
Although skeleton staff were on duty and the airline had
rescheduled most passengers or returned them their money, some
people were left stranded.
"When we come for tourism, we don't want to be bothered by
strikes," said Robert, a French tourist who did not want to give
his last name.
"Everyone has their problems but they shouldn't bother
people who bring in money. That's also business."
Queues formed as some staff abandoned check-in desks while
unionists shouted in the airport.
The Feb. 18-22 strike coincides with school holidays in
Britain and France, Spain's biggest source of tourists.
Tourism accounts for around 11 percent of Spanish economic
output and is one of the country's few growth sectors in a
prolonged recession that has pushed the unemployment rate above
In anticipation of the strike, Iberia has cancelled 415
flights between Monday and Friday, and as many as 1,200 flights
operated by various airlines will be disrupted because some
Iberia workers handle baggage for other airlines at airports
Some 70,000 passengers will be affected. About 86 percent
have been given a different flight, including those operated by
other airlines, while 14 percent have asked for refunds.
The airline says restructuring is vital to return the
Spanish unit to profitability while unions say the IAG
management is degrading pay and benefits in Spain through its
new low-cost airline Iberia Express.
Iberia is just one of several companies in Spain, including
Vodafone and bailed-out lender Bankia, to lay
It is fighting an uphill battle against low-cost operators,
a depressed domestic economy and competitors which are in better
shape after having already gone through restructuring processes.
Sabadell Bolsa analysts said the total 15 days of strikes
could cost Iberia between 50 million euros and 100 million euros